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Southern hospitality meets deadly deception in the start of a charming new mystery series from the USA Today bestselling author of the Java Jive novels.
Quinn Bellandini loves her life in Savannah, Georgia, where she runs her grandfather’s B&B with her sister, Delilah. From baking fresh scones and serving up grits every morning to ensuring the guests see the best of their historic city, Quinn can’t imagine doing anything else—even if it means dealing with nuisances like the occasional malfunctioning commode. But when Quinn drops by the local restaurant owned by her friend Drew Green, and stumbles upon a murder, her whole world comes crashing down.
Drew’s brother was always a little surly, but Quinn can’t imagine that someone disliked the prickly chef enough to kill him. The police, on the other hand, don’t believe that Quinn was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Before her guests can even digest the next morning’s gourmet breakfast, Quinn learns that she and Drew are suspects.
Drew thinks they should do some investigating of their own. Quinn is pretty sure she’s better suited to playing hostess than amateur sleuth. But with Delilah as her cynical sidekick, Quinn starts looking for the real killer—before she gets put away faster than you can say “sugar.”
Don’t miss Caroline Fardig’s thrilling Java Jive mysteries, which can be read together or separately: DEATH BEFORE DECAF | MUG SHOT | A WHOLE LATTE MURDER | BREW OR DIE | MURDER OVER MOCHAS
“I was hooked from the first page. I loved it!”—Dorothy Cannell, award-winning author of the Ellie Haskell mysteries, on Death Before Decaf
“This series is delightful, well written, and wildly entertaining.”—Suspense Magazine
Under the Cover
An excerpt from Southern Discomfort
“Ah, my favorite time of day,” I murmured to myself, breathing in the scrumptious aroma of sweet blackberry and fragrant lavender as I removed a steaming pan full of scones from the oven. I spent a moment too long admiring my little nuggets of heaven, and my glasses fogged up something awful. I tossed them aside and set the scones on the kitchen counter to cool while I put the finishing touches on breakfast for my guests.
My sister, Delilah, sailed through the swinging kitchen door. “The natives are getting restless, Quinn. Chop, chop. Save your Martha Stewart-ing for another day.”
I smiled as I carefully placed an elegant rose I’d made out of tomato skin and a sprig of parsley on top of this morning’s quiche lorraine. I’d baked it in Grandmama Hattie’s favorite pie plate, which always made the crust turn out perfectly flaky. “Now, D, some things are worth waiting for.”
She put her hands on her hips. “Try telling that to the gaggle of Yankees we have staying with us this week.”
I set the quiche and an antique tureen full of buttery grits on a silver serving tray and handed it to her. “Surely they can appreciate that a lovely Southern breakfast takes more time and effort than an Egg McMuffin and coffee from a machine. People choose to stay at Bellandini’s B&B for the atmosphere. Besides, I’m sure no one will be complaining once their bellies are full.”
“You’d think that, but yesterday one of them pitched a hissy fit when I told him we don’t serve espresso. Good old-fashioned coffee evidently doesn’t pack enough caffeine for him,” she grumbled before disappearing through the door.
Chuckling softly to myself, I plated the scones on a china platter that my grandparents had received as a wedding gift, taking an extra moment to garnish my creations with a few fresh blackberries and sprigs of lavender, then delivered them to the dining room. The family of four and two middle-aged couples surrounding our dining table all oohed and aahed over the bountiful breakfast.
I beamed at our guests, humbled by their appreciation of our efforts. “Good morning, everyone. I hope y’all slept well and are enjoying your stay in our lovely town of Savannah. Our breakfast this morning includes quiche lorraine, Papa Sal’s special recipe sausage, grits, fresh fruit, and blackberry-lavender scones. If there’s anything you need, please don’t hesitate to ask.” I gestured to my grandfather, who had appeared next to me. “I’m happy to introduce the owner of Bellandini’s B&B, Sal Bellandini, although you might know him better as Sal the Magnificent.”
“Greetings, friends!” With a flourish, Papa Sal made a fistful of brightly colored gerbera daisies burst out of nowhere and began passing them out to the surprised ladies and excited little girls at the table. “We’re honored that you chose to stay with us in our home. Don’t forget about our magic show at one p.m.—it’s good, clean fun for all ages. Now, dig in before your food gets cold.” Even after living in the South for over fifty years, he’d never lost his thick “New Yawk” accent.
Papa Sal and I went back to join Delilah, who was already hard at work cleaning up the kitchen. She wasn’t big on interacting with the guests, so Papa Sal and I took care of that. I didn’t like cleaning much, so Delilah shouldered the bulk of that job. The three of us made a great team.
I loved working at our family business, especially since it allowed me such a leisurely lifestyle. However, it was still a twenty-four/seven endeavor. Delilah and I ran Bellandini’s B&B for our grandfather, who had all but retired. Papa Sal still lived here with us and did what he could, but he was happy not to have to deal with the day-to-day dilemmas of bed-and-breakfast management.
“Did the plumber ever show up yesterday?” Papa Sal asked, picking up a dishtowel to help Delilah with the dishes.
I frowned as I began cleaning up the work surface on the island. “No, although I called several times yesterday and already once this morning. I’m hoping he comes today, otherwise we’re still down a room since the commode isn’t working.”
Papa Sal nodded. “Sorry I can’t be more help, but I think what’s wrong with it is above my pay grade.”
I smiled. “Not a problem. You’re the talent around here, remember? The talent does not have to fix toilets. I’m sure it’s in your contract somewhere.”
He chuckled and went back to drying the dishes.
We were having a pleasant, quiet morning until my mother burst through the back door.
“Good morning, everyone!” she gushed, giving each of us a too-loud kiss on the cheek.
My mother, Dixie, aka Suncloud, only ever darkened the door of the B&B for three reasons: to wrangle a free breakfast, to beg for money, or to gossip. Otherwise, she lived her own free-spirited life with a stoner named Paul in a van down by the river.
She made a grand show of plopping into one of the chairs at the kitchen table. “Isn’t it a glorious day?”
I smiled. Motives aside, you couldn’t not get caught up in Mom’s sunny personality. “It’s downright lovely, yes. How are things with you?”
Sighing and closing her eyes, she began to sway to some music only she could hear. “Oh, Paul and I hosted the most magical drum circle last night in Forsyth Park. Y’all really should have come. It was truly life-changing.”
As much fun as it sounded to get high and play drums (not), the three of us had declined her offer.
“Right. Shame we missed it,” Delilah said, a snarky tone tingeing her voice.
“Yes. We’ll have to make sure to plan the next one on a night when y’all are free.”
Papa Sal shot me a look. He’d told Mom yesterday that he would go play drums with those hippies over his dead body. Evidently he hadn’t made his feelings on the subject clear enough.
After a beat of awkward silence, Mom said pretend-conversationally, “So, what did you girls come up with for the breakfast menu this morning? What delicious flavor have you infused into your famous scones, Quinnie?” Which was code for Where are the leftovers?
“I made blackberry-lavender ones today, Mom. And quiche lorraine, along with the usual fixin’s.”
She swooned. “Ooh, your guests must have thought they’d died and gone to heaven.”
Papa Sal smiled proudly. “Our girls make the best breakfast in town.”
“No doubt about it.” Mom got up from her seat. “Since I’m here, might as well make myself useful. I’ll go and see if your guests are finished, and then I’ll clear the table.”
Delilah said, “Thanks, Mom.” After Mom had gone into the dining room, Delilah lowered her voice. “I’m having coffee with a friend later, and I want to have something to serve him, so don’t let her take all the scones.”
Papa Sal stopped and stared at her, his wrinkled face bright with excitement. “A gentleman caller?”
“Not that kind of gentleman caller. An old friend who’s back in town.”
I gave my sister a playful poke in the ribs. “Old friends can turn into new loves.”
“Whatever, you guys. Just save some scones, okay?”
Papa Sal joined Mom on the back porch while she ate breakfast, leaving Delilah and me to finish tidying up the kitchen. When we were done, I took off my glasses and set them aside while I rubbed my eyes.
“Tired already?” Delilah asked, putting on a fresh pot of coffee.
I nodded. “I didn’t get to bed until well after midnight, and then of course we’re always up with the chickens. My own dumb mistake. I got caught up in a novel and stayed up too late reading.”
She chuckled. “No surprise there. I should probably read more, but there’s so much binge-watching to do on Netflix.” Her face became serious. “Are we becoming boring old spinsters, Quinn?”
I laughed. “Of course not. You do community theater, and I’ve got my band. We are far from boring. And we’re only in our early thirties, so we’re far from old. Besides, you had a date with that tour guide not too long ago.”
“That was six months ago.”
Wincing, I said, “Oh.” Then I said, “You know, we don’t need men to complete our lives. I’m very happy the way I am.”
“True, but I wouldn’t mind a little excitement in my life. Something to break the monotony, at least.”
“Well, then you should have gone to the magical, life-changing drum circle with Mom last night.”
While Delilah rolled her eyes and made unladylike gagging noises, I skipped up the back steps to my room on the third floor.
After changing out of my flour-covered clothes and into some nicer ones for the rest of the day, I realized I’d left my glasses in the kitchen. I hurried back downstairs, but didn’t find them on the counter where I thought I’d laid them. I sighed. I was forever misplacing them, but this time I knew they had to be somewhere in the kitchen. I squinted, trying to see a little more clearly, and ran my eyes over every inch of the room. They were nowhere.
“Ding dang it,” I huffed under my breath. Oh well, they would turn up eventually, as they always did. Besides, I didn’t have to be able to see to walk a couple of blocks to buy some fresh herbs and catch up with a friend.
As I headed for the front door, I noticed a tall man standing in our foyer, perusing one of our brochures at the front desk. Assuming from the tool belt slung around his waist that he was the plumber who hadn’t bothered to show up yesterday, I said over my shoulder as I opened the door, “Oh, good. You’re here. The broken commode is on the second floor, second room on the right. Thanks.”
His head snapped up when I spoke to him. “Quinn Bellandini? Is that you?” His deep voice sounded shocked, but of course I couldn’t read his facial expression from across the foyer without my glasses.
Confused by his apparent surprise, I replied, “Yes, we spoke on the phone yesterday, remember? Please forgive my rush, but I have an errand to run. I’ll be back shortly.”
I closed the door behind me and bounded down the steps, out into the warm October morning. Sultry summer temperatures in Savannah lasted well into autumn, so it wasn’t time to break out the long sleeves just yet, even though it was nearing Halloween. After crossing Barnard Street, I cut through Pulaski Square. It was extra quiet this time of day; the only other people I encountered were a couple walking their golden retriever. I’d lived in the same house all my life, with the same view of the same square. However, I couldn’t help but marvel every time I laid eyes on the majestic live oaks, their twisty branches providing a gorgeous and protective cover for the lush lawn of the quaint square. I couldn’t imagine being any happier living anywhere else on earth.
I continued on down Charlton Street a short ways to a nearby restaurant, Green, simply (although not terribly inventively) named after the owners: the Green brothers, Drew and Jason, and Jason’s wife, Valerie. The three of them lived in the apartments in the upper two floors of the building, and the brothers ran the kitchen of Green. This hour of day, the place was closed, but it was the perfect time to shoot the breeze with Drew.
The backyard gate was unlocked, and the rear door leading into the kitchen was open, as I’d hoped. Bounding up the back stairs, I called, “Drew? It’s Quinn. May I come in?”
There was no answer. Drew and I were good enough friends that he didn’t mind me barging into his kitchen—at least during off-hours. I knew better than to try to set foot inside the place during business hours and especially when Chef Jason was around. That man and his tirades made angry TV chef Gordon Ramsay look sweet as a Georgia peach.
I stepped inside and walked into the immaculate kitchen. “Drew? Are you here?”
Drew emerged from the adjacent office, smiling. “Morning, Quinn. What’s up?”
Drew and I had met a few years ago at a neighborhood merchants’ council meeting and had instantly hit it off. Although he was a transplant who hadn’t been brought up in the South, he ticked every box on Grandmama Hattie’s “gentleman’s test,” which included but was not limited to: opening doors for others, never using foul language, and treating his staff with fairness and respect. On occasion, he had even helped me put on my coat and walked me home at night, and of course he could cook. Drew was a catch but, like me, never had much time to date anyone.
“Good morning, Drew. I’d like to buy some lavender and thyme.”
He pulled a faux frown. “You mean you didn’t come over just to see your good buddy?”
“Sorry. Yes, of course I came to see you. The herbs are secondary.”
“You know, I’m glad you stopped by. I was going to call you today. There’s something I want to ask you. Be right back, okay?” He hurried into the office, returning only moments later with two tickets in hand and a bright, hopeful smile. “I know how you like to go to the theater. I’ve got these two tickets for a play tonight.”
I paused for a moment to let what he was asking me sink in. Then I said, “You’re asking me if I want to go to the theater?”
I wasn’t a fan of live theater. The only reason I ever went was to watch my sister’s community troupe performances. I guessed I did go to the theater a lot, and I probably hadn’t told him that my sole motivation in doing so was to support Delilah. But him not knowing that little tidbit about me wasn’t what I was worried about. My buddy Drew was asking me out . . . on a date. This was uncharted territory.
He nodded, still smiling wide. “Yeah. Are you interested?”
Interested in going on a date with him? I didn’t know if I was or not. The thought had never even entered my mind. But . . . I supposed it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. It could make things weird between us, though. However, we got along well, so who was to say it wasn’t a half-bad idea? Like Delilah had said earlier, it wouldn’t kill me to get out more. And it wasn’t like it was a marriage proposal. It was only a date. Nevertheless, it freaked me out. I ran my nervous hands through my long, dark hair.
Steadying my voice, I replied, “I . . . um . . .” I cleared my throat. “I’d love to go to the theater, Drew. Thank you for asking me. It sounds like fun.”
“Great. Here you go.” He handed me the two tickets.
I was slightly confused, but took them anyway. Maybe he wanted me to be in charge of our tickets for some odd reason. I read over the particulars. “Bitter Winter. I haven’t heard of this play. Do you know what it’s about?”
“It’s new play by a local playwright about the Starving Time in the Jamestown colony in 1609.”
Well, that was certainly a downer. I nodded, trying to feign interest. “Ooh, sounds intense. Would you like to meet there or . . .” I trailed off so the ball was in his court as to whether he wanted to make it a formal date by picking me up or for it to be more of a casual meet-up. I had no idea where he was going with this, so I was more than happy to let him take charge of the evening. I was hoping for a casual meet-up, though. His out of the blue proposition was a lot to process.
“I wasn’t asking you . . .” A puzzled expression crossed Drew’s face. “I mean, I can’t go. Jason had something come up, so I have to be the head chef tonight and can’t use the tickets. I’d hate to see them go to waste. I figured you wouldn’t have any problem getting a date at the last minute.”
Oh, good gravy. Awkward! It took everything I had not to do a face-palm right there in front of him as I thought, Way to go, Quinn. Only you could misread his intentions this badly.
Caroline Fardig is the USA Today bestselling author of more than a dozen mysteries. Fardig’s Bad Medicine was named one of the best books of 2015 by Suspense Magazine. She worked as a schoolteacher, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay-at-home mom before she realized that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Born and raised in a small town in Indiana, Fardig still lives in that same town with an understanding husband, two sweet kids, two energetic dogs, and one malevolent cat.